I got into teaching English for a purely selfish reason: I wanted to travel and learn about other languages and cultures. LIttle did I know that I would love teaching and that the career would suck me in. Ten years have passed since I bought a one-way ticket to Colombia, and China will be my sixth country to teach in. China was never really that high on my list, it wasn’t somewhere that I was aching to live. Maybe it was the fear of tackling the language or the idea that there would be no way for me to catch up on learning about 2000 years of history, but I never really considered moving here. Josephine, on the other hand, had put China at the top of her list for precisely the reasons I had feared. She said that whenever she pictured a place that could be as far away from her home as possible, China was what came to mind.
After a week here, I’m questioning why I would have ever debated the move. Granted, I’ve been reduced to zero, linguistically and culturally. I have absolutely no language skills here, so I’ve had to rely on pantomime and pictures. Thankfully, a little effort with the language and being polite seems to go a long way. For most every little improvement I make, I get tons of praise. While research suggests that praising students too much is counter-productive because it leads them to either expect recognition for any effort and because it desensitizes them, I have been loving the support that I get whenever I try to use the language! In my case, it’s made me want to try harder to speak to Chinese people in their own language. Also, I realize how tough it is for so many people to use their limited English with me, so I want to meet them halfway. Plus, people have been so polite to me (except on the subway, where it’s everyone for himself or herself).
Speaking of the politeness, I was struck by what a Starbucks barista wrote on my cup the other day, rather than asking my name. In case any of you hadn’t heard the news last year, there were a round of articles on racist Starbucks coffee cups, Papa John’s receipts, and other such nonsense going around last year when employees didn’t have the time to ask for customers’ names. My cup had none of that, it was labeled “Sir.” And, yes, for my Austin friends and my midtown Memphis friends, I went into a Starbucks!. You can throw me out of the club now, but when the choice is instant coffee, or some mediocre stuff from the local quickie mart, I’ll take Starbucks in the land of tea.
Food has been the greatest surprise. A number of people told me they began to hate Chinese food after trip here, and a number of traveling English teachers told me that no Chinese food in the US ever compared to the quality of what they have gotten here. I fall in the latter group. Oh my God, I love the food here! Granted, I have made it a point not to ask what I am eating until after I’ve finished. It’s easier for me to eat some things if I don’t know what they are, like pork lungs. All in all, it hasn’t lived up to the stereotypes I’ve had (this has been the same anywhere, which leads me to question why I would believe anything about anywhere until I visit.) What’s struck me to date is how fresh the food is, and how diverse everything is. Each group meal has been a symphony of tastes, colors, textures, and styles. Luckily, my new boss is a foodie who fills his WeChat page with pictures of food. After every meeting or school visit, we have the obligatory fancy lunch
On the work front, all is well. I’m working for a university, doing a project that has me visiting primary schools to give workshops to English teachers. The first one went over well, and I’m scheduled for 3 more next week after we get back from the Chinese national day holiday. I’ll write more about these later.